Why am I an activist?

I have done a few activist related posts on this blog over the last few months and, while this isn’t a predominantly activist related site, I feel like it is important to keep discussing it.

I myself identify strongly as an activist and I am not someone who just shuts up and goes along with the flow – I never have been. I always stood back and observed, I saw injustice happening and it took a while of being beaten down with words and the odd physical shove before I stood up and started to shout about what was wrong in the world I saw.

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Green fist with writing to the left 'Activism is my rent for living on the planet'.

My first injustice I properly started to work on was bullying. I have been bullied from a young age. I was getting comments soon after I began primary school but it started to get really bad in year four with a group project. Everyone says how much they hate group projects, but I have never had one in an educational setting (outside of work training groups) that didn’t turn sour. In my very first big group project that I remember going badly we had to make and decorate a lamp. It seemed easy.

I was really up for it, I love tech now and I did then too. I helped to make the main part then when I tried to put bits of my design with it I was told to go away, leave it. I had bits of my work torn up in front of me, my stuff even got trodden on by classmates. It was awful. My teacher just stood back and let it happen.

It was around then, if not before (it was a while ago, details are slightly hazy), that ‘goofy germs’ began, along side ‘[birthname] germs’ that managed to split the classroom the minute it was said. It was like I was parting the red sea. It was said the moment I entered a room. It was shouted when I brushed against someone “Ew! Goofy germs!!” Then my ‘germs’ were wiped on someone else. It happened so much it was impossible for the teachers not to notice, the whole class literally parted, it wasn’t difficult to see. But that went on for ages. I was teased, I was pushed, I was told I was gross.

In year five, it was a teacher who said the worst things. Banning me from fun activities because I hadn’t replied to a question in time – yet those children who had done the same were permitted to take part. I was lumped in with the misbehaving kids that made even the toughest of teachers cry. I remember the girl who bullied me the worst once complaining that she was getting too hot near the radiator and my teacher telling me I had to put up with her sitting beside me and hitting my arm because he said so. It was horrible.

It didn’t stop there, I was bullied for a number of years. It carried on through secondary school with ‘friends’ who used to complain that they had to sit next to me. Even my best friend begrudged it.

I first started to speak up against bullying in year five, I wrote a poem.

My name does not matter
Not now, not ever
But I’ve had problems at school
Bullies that’s all
People calling me names
They think it’s such a good game.

But it’s not it is bad
In fact it is sad [cont.]

I had written most of this at night, and had my mum help me reform some sections. I showed it to a teacher and they asked for it to be read out in assembly, anonymously, to help others. I dont remember if it was or not, but that was where it all started.

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Stop sign with the words 'Bullying stops here'

When I went to secondary school I continued to speak up for those being bullied (which still included myself at this point). When I started attending the youth wing at school I became involved in it a lot. It got to the point where four out of five lunch times and 2-3 after school sessions a week I was there. It became my safe haven.

I got involved quickly with the peer mentor group, as a mentee. I got a lot of support and it wasn’t long before I went back to ignoring my own problems and training to be a mentor instead to help others. I did this for a number of years, and slowly I became interested in mental health and the effects of bullying on it. I still didn’t talk about my own feelings though. That wasn’t important to me at the time, despite the fact I was self harmimg and had been for a number of years at this point (although I didn’t realise that was what I was doing, instead just seeing it as punishing myself for feeling and taking out my anger).

It was through the youth wing that I applied to be a part of the West Sussex Youth Cabinet and later down the line part of the UK Youth Parliament. I ran for it with the main campaign based on anti-bullying and a hatred for my main competitor who preached equality, yet bullied others. I had enough of the way people were being treated and I wanted to actually make a difference.

It was due to all of my work with the youth wing that I ended up being elected. While I was disliked by most of the school and my main competitor was one of the popular kids, a lot of people disliked him more and so voted for me. As it was, we ended up both being elected and working together which actually wasn’t too bad, and from them my activism increased tenfold.

I was a CyberMentor for BeatBullying, a Peer Mentor, I was one of two members for Crawley South East for the West Sussex Youth Cabinet. Later I became the Deputy Member of UK Youth Parliament for Crawley and East Grinstead and even later the member of youth parliament for the same area. I was promoted to Senior CyberMentor and began work around mental health.

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A photo of me at the House of Commons debating Equal Marriage as part of the UK Youth Parliament in 2012

It was my work in mental health that really took off in terms of starting to make a difference to more people. I set up Free Your Mind, the campaign I recieved my DPM Award for, and I actually started to change things. I helped get loads of information about mental health put up on YourSpaceWestSussex, the website for young people in West Sussex, where there was nothing there previously.

I found out quickly that helping people and fighting for a cause was something I was really passionate about – though it took a while longer to realise it was probably what I should do with my life to some degree – and that I genuinely loved to do.

I continue my activism work now in the LGBT community, being a part of many different groups such as bi and trans* ones. I help with Trans* Pride and volunteered this year as a signer on stage which was phenomenal to be a part of. I engage in lots of discussions online and even help run Hetros, Homos and a Whole ot More and Who, What, Where, When and Why? on facebook. Activism is really important to me, especially of under-represented communities. I don’t think that will ever change. I love doing it, and I feel like by making a difference I am actually doing something with my life.

If you have never done any activist work before, it is easier than you might think to get involved with. Start a conversation with someone about something you are passionate about. Do you feel that the environment is really important to you and you’d like people to use more solar power? Start that conversation, find any potential local groups, engage in talks online and off, don’t let people forget it is important. It goes for anything too, if it isn’t something you are directly linked with (such as the LGBT community) but you feel passionate about helping to represent the issues (or positive things), speak to peope who are involved first. You don’t want to be the person who messes it up for everyone while trying to help!

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